There is no doubt who is more confident as Michael Johnson and Donovan Bailey approach their 150-meter showdown Sunday at SkyDome.
Give Johnson the advantage.
With each participant guaranteed $500,000 for showing up and an additional $1 million going to the winner, both were asked if they would be willing to wager their appearance fee as a side bet in a winner-take-all race.
“Why would I do that?” Bailey said. “This is my job.”
Johnson was not nearly as cautious.
“I would put the whole $2 million on the line,” he said.
The unprecedented $2 million pot for a race that likely will last less than 15 seconds is one of the many intriguing angles that has attracted worldwide attention to the event.
There’s also the title of “World’s Fastest Human” at stake, a crown Bailey claims is rightfully his even if Johnson beats him because he won the Olympic 100-meter gold medal last year and set a world record of 9.84 seconds.
Will this type of big-money event be the wave of the future or will it just be a novelty? Will fans find renewed interest off this gimmicky type race at a rarely run distance, and if so, are there enough such matchups to attract the expected 45,000 for today showdown?
The first test was provided Saturday when Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, the Olympic 1,500-meter champion and world mile record-holder, met Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, the Olympic 10,000-meter gold medalist and world record-holder at 5,000 meters, in a 2-mile race at Hengelo, Netherlands.
One million dollars was on the line if the winner broke 8 minutes, but neither did, although Gebrselassie set a world record with a time of 8:01.08. Morceli didn’t finish.
The Johnson-Bailey matchup was announced early in the year and the buildup since then has been mounting, especially in Canada, where Bailey is a national hero. But the One on One Challenge of Champions, being promoted by the Magellan Entertainment Group, was in jeopardy as late as Wednesday because of financial instability.
Then Toronto developer Eddie Cogan “stepped up and wrote the checks … to assure that Michael and Donovan were both comfortable,” said Brad Hunt, Johnson’s agent.
The big race will be preceded by an undercard that includes Jackie Joyner-Kersee against Heike Drechsler of Germany in the women’s long jump, Neil Fuller of Australia against Tony Volpentest of the United States in a 100-meter paralympics race, Charles Austin against Patrik Sjoberg of Sweden in the high jump, Okkert Brits of South Africa against Lawrence Johnson in the pole vault, and Ludmila Engquist of Sweden against Michelle Freeman in the women’s 100-meter hurdles.